An experiment in fixed-price boating

Posted on Written by Chris Landry

34_service_02The headaches of boat ownership can easily spoil the experience for some people. Dockage, storage, engine and hull maintenance, electronics issues, insurance – the list goes on. But what if the consumer could hire a single company to deal with all these concerns for a fixed annual price?

Bill Morong, president of Yachting Solutions, answered this question by creating the Safe Haven Advantage program for his marina and yard customers. The program covers all maintenance, repairs, parts and labor, as well as haulout, storage, an annual survey, insurance coverage and 24/7 emergency assistance. Only damages caused by operator negligence are not covered.

The Rockport, Maine, company also offers crew services, yacht management, refits and repowers, and brokerage and new-boat (Hunt Yachts) sales.

“In typical boatyard scenarios, the billing is inconsistent,” says Morong. “[Customers] don’t know what they’re going to be charged for. They don’t know what their boat is going to cost them this year.”

With Safe Haven, there are no service-bill surprises. “Boaters may get recommendations from their boatyard that they need to spend a lot of money, but that wasn’t on their agenda,” Morong says. “Under this program, absolutely everything is covered for one fixed price, regardless of what happens.”

“Everything” includes services you’d expect – hauling, winterization, storage – and some you wouldn’t, like updating your flares, waterproofing exterior canvas and sea-trialing the boat after offseason layup. (A detailed list can be found at www.yachtingsolutions.com.)

A number of marinas and boatyards around the country have launched similar programs, packaging repair services, maintenance, haulout and storage, and offering turnkey service to marina customers, says Jim Frye, chairman and president of the Association of Marina Industries.

34_service_02“Safe Haven takes it a little further by adding in other products and services they offer, like yacht management and insurance,” says Frye. “From the Yachting Solutions perspective, this program appears to be not only a revenue stream but an opportunity to ensure that a customer’s yacht is maintained and kept shipshape, which is important from a risk manager’s perspective. This effort of packaging services is an important step to attracting and preserving boaters in these challenging times.”

The company will create a yacht care program for each owner, and prices will vary greatly from boat to boat, Morong says. For instance, the program fee for a 40-foot powerboat might range from $25,000 to $40,000, he says. The company will calculate the annual fees according to the vessel and its past maintenance records, he says.

“If someone who has a Hinckley jetboat wants to enroll, we have enough experience working on these boats to know what they cost to maintain,” Morong says.

Customers can compare the Yachting Solutions’ fee to what they’ve been paying.

Morong anticipates many of the program’s clients will be current Yachting Solutions customers, so the company will be able to use its maintenance records to show owners the value of the program. “Other customers that might be transferring from another location can figure out what they’ve been spending annually,” he says. “Plus, we have experience with many different types of boats.”

Yachting Solutions, established about five years ago, employs 12 full-time workers and has about 65 customers. The company also runs a marina in Rockport, Trident Yacht Basin, with about 18 slips. “We hope to expand the marina to 60 slips progressively over three to four years,” Morong says.

Morong says the Safe Haven Advantage program will take a few seasons to get off the ground because it is so different. “There’s been very little innovation as to how we service our customers,” he says. “It’s all about service and the feeling the customer comes away with about your company – how pleased they are, how much they recommend you to their friends. Our goal is to introduce innovative programs inside the boat service sector that will set us apart.”

Boatyards and marinas may have higher priorities than saving customers money, says Morong. “If you think about it, it’s a system where it’s in nobody’s best interest to save the customer money,” he says. “They’re just billed for whatever the boatyard believes needs to be done. What we’re saying is we will guarantee that the boat is in perfect condition all the time. If it’s not, it’s on us to repair it. It behooves us to take care of the boats so it doesn’t cost us money.”

Boats in the program will be surveyed by a certified surveyor and sea-trialed annually, which will give owners confidence their boats are in top shape when they fire up the engines for the first time, Morong says.

The annual surveys also will help preserve resale value. “Our surveys will become part of the boat’s record and ensure that any deficiencies are caught quickly,” Morong says. “An annual work list will be handed over to the owner after the survey.”

The program guarantees that if you need service, someone will call you back within an hour of your call, regardless of the time of day, and a service person will be on the boat within six hours.

The one component of the plan that has yet to be tacked down is emergency towing. The company can tap service people from New York Harbor to Maine, but it offers no national towing service, such as programs from BoatU.S. or Sea Tow.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.

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